A couple of decades ago the world was introduced to a new kind of pope when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s, arms held high in greeting to a massive crowd who could not pronounce his name.
It was a tumultuous season in the life of the Church, and in the world. Communism held eastern Europe and Russia in a death grip. The West was in the throes of the fallout from the sexual revolution. War was everywhere. The family was under siege, both in the media and in the news. The Church was struggling to communicate the fullness and freshness of the Gospel to a world grown cold and indifferent to the message of Christ.
In short, it wasn’t a whole lot different from where we stand today.
Pope John Paul II was exactly the man for the job. Born into a loving Polish family, Karol would lose everyone who mattered most to him by his 21st birthday. With each subsequent heartache, each desolating loss, young Karol found himself drawn further and further into the mystery of the heart of the Father. Rather than running from God in his grief, he allowed his suffering to transform him, and his heart was enkindled with an unquenchable love for human love.
This man who lost mother, father, brother, and friend to all manner of hideous diseases and atrocities at the hands of the Nazis was transformed, by God’s grace, into one of the greatest lovers the world has ever known.
Maybe it’s strange to think of a celibate man as a great lover. Or maybe it’s just an unfamiliar application of the word. Our modern concept of sexual love is very narrow, and it’s very limiting. Sexuality has been reduced to mere animal lust, its scope and grandeur stunted by the pornographic times we live in.
But it’s true, JPII was a great lover. He was able to see into the depths of the human heart and, through his work with countless hundreds of young people and married couples, he had a unique perspective on human love. You might say he was an expert on matters of the human heart.
He saw the divinity in our humanity, and he stretched our minds to the breaking point trying to communicate it through his years-long series of Wednesday addresses, which we know today by another name: Theology of the Body.
George Weigel, the late pope’s official biographer, made a sort of prophesy about Theology of the Body more than 20 years ago, calling it:
“A theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences sometime in the third millennium of the Church… It has barely begun to shape the way the Church understands herself and thinks about herself, barely begun to shape the Church’s preaching and education, but when it does it will compel a dramatic development of thinking about virtually every major theme in the creed.”
A theological time bomb? Sounds like we could use one of those right about now.
Set to change the way the Church thinks about herself and virtually every major theme in the Creed?
Sounds kind of like a big deal.
Now, you could say that Weigel was overstating his case or that his prediction was mere conjecture, but you cannot deny the dire need for the Church to re-propose the Gospel and the meaning of life and love to a world such as ours, in a time such as this.
We are at war. We have always been at war in this fallen world, it is true. But today we are warring in a particular way for the very soul of human love.
Everything that we know to be true is open for debate: Marriage. The dignity of the human person. The meaning and purpose of sexuality. The fundamental right to life itself. Every bit of it is being reexamined and reconfigured by a world in crisis.
And we have all the answers. Literally at our fingertips. Because the internet. Because massive literacy levels across broad sections of society in many cultures. Never before has information been so easy to disseminate in all of human history.
And yet we sit idly by as our civilization self-destructs, one marriage and one family at a time.
Listen, fellow Christians…this is on us.
We were each of us hand-selected for a time such as this, and we’ve been entrusted with a powerful message from the Creator to the rest of creation in this Theology of the Body.
This stuff is visionary. It’s powerful. And it isn’t going to transform a single heart or convert a single soul so long as it remains untaught, unread, and inaccessible to the average person in the pew or on the street.
St. John Paul II, we need you. More today than when you were here with us on earth.
Pray that we may find the same kind of courage that faced down communism, defied tyrants and dictators, and saw in the face of every person an unrepeatable icon of Jesus Christ.